|A cup of Californio-style Chocolate.|
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Foodways from the Spanish and Mexican colonization period of California’s history is not a very widely-talked about subject. The documents that contain the information about food during this period are largely still in 18th century/early 19th century Spanish, although some of them have begun to be translated into English and other languages in the past few years. The available documents are also mostly from the very beginning of the Spanish colonial era (begun in mainland Mexico in the 16th century) or from the very end of the Mexican colonial era – or even afterward, in the later memories of the people who lived in California during that time. Therefore, a fair amount of extrapolation is necessary to re-create foods that would have been familiar to the Californios – people of Hispanic descent who lived in California before the Gold Rush.
Chocolate began as a bitter, spicy beverage among the Aztec elite. They drank it for religious/ceremonial purposes as well as ordinary ones and incorporated many local flowers and spices in its manufacture. They used cacao beans and pods as a form of currency and presented it as gifts to other rulers, including the Spanish conquistadors, when they first arrived.
“To every 100 Cacaos, you must put two cods of the long red Pepper, of which I have spoken before, and are called, in the Indian Tongue, Chilparlagua; and in stead of those of the Indies, you may take those of Spaine; which are broadest, and least hot. One handfull of Annis-seed Orejuelas, which are otherwise called Vinacaxlidos: and two of the flowers, called Mechasuehil, if the Belly be bound. But in stead of this, in Spaine, we put in sixe Roses of Alexandria beat to Powder: One Cod of Campeche, or Logwood: Two Drams of Cinamon, Almons, and Hasle-Nuts, of each one Dozen: Of white Sugar, halfe a pound: Of Achiote, enough to give it the colour. And if you cannot have those things, which come from the Indies, you may make it with the rest.”
|The spices used in flavoring Californio Chocolate.|
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
|Still Life with Chocolate and Rolls,|
Luís Egidio Meléndez, 1770.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Put the tablet [of chocolate] with water on the fire, in an amount a little larger than you need to fill the chocolate cup you are going to serve it in, and when you have brought it to a boil, take it off and completely break up the tablet with the chocolate beater [molinillo], and mix it with the water. Put it back on the fire to boil, and when it starts to rise, remove it a second time. To serve, beat it and pour half a cup, and return to beating. Then fill the cup, making sure the top is covered with foam.”
Doña Encarnación Pinedo was born in 1848 to a prominent Californio family, educated at a convent school in San Jose, and was taught all the old Californio recipes as a young girl. She wrote her book, originally, for her nieces, who had an Anglo father, married Yankees, lived in a much more Americanized California, and were in danger of living life without knowing their Spanish Californio heritage. The book, therefore, preserves older recipes from early 19th century California, during the Mexican colonial period, which just preceded Doña Encarnación’s birth.
The Date/Year and Region: California during Spanish and Mexican colonization, ca. 1776 – 1845.
|The volcanic rock molcajetes, and mortars and|
pestles, used for grinding the spices.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
How Did You Make It:
1 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
1 T. piloncillo or raw sugar (you can add more if you want it very sweet)
1 grain of achiote
1/6th of a Ceylon cinnamon stick
1 pinch chili pepper or crushed red pepper
1 pinch dried rose petals
1 drop vanilla extract, or ½-inch piece of vanilla pod
1 whole clove [optional]
1 small pinch anise or fennel seeds [optional]
1 black peppercorn [optional]
1 splash of rose water or orange flower water [optional]
1 almond or 2 pine nuts [optional]
First, measure out your spices and crush/grind them to a powder in a mortar and pestle; don’t worry if the cinnamon stick won’t pulverize completely. Add the nuts, if using, and grind them to a powder, too. Add the piloncillo or raw sugar (or regular sugar cubes) to the spices, and also grind them up. Set aside. In a saucepan, put the water, and bring it to a boil; then add the chocolate, and stir with a wooden spoon until it is mostly dissolved. Put down the spoon and pick up a wooden molinillo (if you have one, or use a modern whisk), and begin to whisk the melting chocolate, over medium heat, breaking it up against the side of the saucepan, and tilting the saucepan as needed to gather all the chocolate mixture to one side of the saucepan for easier whisking.
When the chocolate is all melted, add the spices and sugar, and whisk over medium heat until you can smell the spices, and the mixture just comes to a bubble in the saucepan. If desired, add the rose water and/or vanilla extract, then remove the chocolate from the heat, and whisk until the top of the chocolate is covered with tiny frothy bubbles. Pour into a cup and serve. Makes 1 cup of chocolate (but scales up for multiple cups easily).
|Chocolate pots used at Santa Barbara|
presidio. Photo: Santa Barbara Trust
I also used this basic recipe at the school where I work, with the 4th-grade students, although I had to adapt the recipe to use cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate because that’s what the school purchased. I used about 1 cup of cocoa powder for every 6 cups of water, because it tended to thicken too much the longer it remained on the heat (waiting for the students to finish grinding their spices). The students chose their own spice mixture from the above list, the only ingredient mandate being that they choose at least 2 spices/flavorings, and not just add a bunch of sugar. Most thought it tasted too spicy with only 3 sugar cubes’ worth of sugar, but they liked it better when they were allowed to use 4 sugar cubes; several of them still thought it was too spicy, several wanted to add some cold water, but a handful of others loved the taste and finished their whole cup.
|Chocolate grinding metate and mano, from Coco-Story,|
the chocolate museum, Bruges (Belgium).
Photo: Creative Commons by Yelkrokoyade